Blue Jays: Team plans to limit DH at-bats for Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen
With the offseason reshaping of the roster, a big question heading into 2023 is how the Blue Jays plan on using the designated hitter spot in the lineup.
From a recent report by Keegan Matheson of MLB.com, it doesn't look like the team's plans include many extra DH at-bats for their catchers. Manager John Schneider told reporters there "may be a few less games for Jansen and Kirk at the DH spot."
It's no secret that the Blue Jays' tandem of Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen is one of the best catching duos in the league. They are both strong behind the plate and offer offensive upside that other teams' two catchers can't match.
Kirk, simply put, is one of the best pure hitters on the team. He has an elite eye at the plate, which he showed with a higher walk rate (11.6%) than strikeout rate (10.7%) last season.
Kirk frequently ended up in the DH spot when he wasn't catching; he started 49 games as the designated hitter. The team wanted to keep his All-Star bat in the lineup, but he wore down over the second half of his first full season in the big leagues.
Compare the young catcher's first-half OPS of .882 and 155 wRC+ to his second-half OPS of .661 and 95 wRC+, and you can see why the Blue Jays want to keep him fresh through the long grind of the season.
Jansen provided power in 2022, but with only three starts at DH, his role was limited to his catching starts. His barrel rate of 13.1% and hard-hit rate of 46.6% were the highest of his career, as was his 140 wRC+.
Over the season's final two-and-a-half months, when he was finally healthy, the 27-year-old ranked among the leaders at the position in many stats. From July 12-Oct. 5, he was top five in OBP (.355), SLG (.478), ISO (.208), wOBA (.357), and wRC+ (136) among catchers with a minimum of 150 PA.
Per Matheson, Schneider plans to deploy Kirk and Jansen based on matchups against opposing pitchers, who's pitching for the Jays, as well as the health of his backstops.
Which Blue Jays will DH this season?
During the 2022 campaign, the Blue Jays used the DH spot to get everyday players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. off their feet but keep their bat in the lineup. Guerrero spent 32 games as the designated hitter. A total of 17 different players saw time there throughout the season.
With Brandon Belt now in the fold, the DH spot will have a more permanent resident than we've been used to seeing in recent years. As Matheson reports, Schneider hopes Belt can stay healthy and take some of the burden off his catchers, "Ideally, you have Brandon healthy and it allows Kirky and Jano to stay healthy. That’s a great thing. I think it's going to be pretty evenly split."
While other position players will still see some games at DH over the course of the season, Belt looks to be the top option for the job. The more that the 12-year veteran can slot in as the DH, the less wear and tear on Kirk and Jansen over 162 games, and the better chance the team has of rolling into the postseason with two fully healthy catchers that can both contribute at the plate.